To grow or not to grow? That is the question. And rightly so.
I attended a compline service the other evening-lovely music, soft lighting, serene voices, hymns in Latin, scriptures chanted-an aesthetic service designed for, and attended by, the faithful few who were not required to participate in the worship.
Right out of the Middle Ages.
All this is fine and dandy if the goal is to preserve the past and to satisfy a handful. But not if the mission is to reach out.
The church is drifting in a trichotomy: the traditionalist, liturgical, local, priest-centred gatherings; the congregations with a vicar who has only one vote in how the services and outreach are conducted; and the bishop-led hierarchy with all the trappings, traditions and ceremonies of the Middle Ages. Rooted in the past. Cemented in the stones of their cathedrals. Lovers of stained glass. Endless debaters, as were the Scholastics and their angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin issues. Stop signs on the road to spiritual growth.
The first and the third groups will die out, as they ought to. The other assemblies will grow, not because they want to, but because they want to serve the world, not themselves. They will reach out and strangers will shake their hands and find a welcome in a place and a fellowship that makes sense to them. People who do not offer sweet, inane answers to serious problems but just “are there” to comfort and genuinely befriend. The first and third won’t be able to keep people in; the second won’t be able to keep them out.
George Fraser is a member of St. Dunstan’s Anglican Church in Victoria, B.C.